Last fall, Linked Senior collected information from activity directors across the country to determine what they love most about their work and what challenges they face day-to-day, especially when it comes to their ability to meaningfully engage the residents in their care. More than 300 people responded to the survey and shared some eye-opening insights:
- 58% of respondents working in long-term care indicated that documentation (care plans, notes, monitoring participation) was the most challenging part of their job
- 42% of respondents working in memory-care facilities indicated that their residents’ experience of cognitive impairment or dementia was the biggest obstacle they face when trying to engage residents
- Nearly half of respondents, no matter what care setting they work in, stated that getting to know the resident is what they prefer most about their job
The outcomes of this survey are consistent with what Linked Senior is hearing from providers across the board as it relates to the benefits of optimizing engagement. In 2017, Linked Senior collaborated with Kendal on Hudson in New York to create a case study for LeadingAge about Reducing Antipsychotics through Digital Engagement. This Kendal community used therapeutic engagement to reduce the use of unnecessary drugs to zero while also increase staff efficiencies and increasing quality of life. 90% of residents after Kendal’s engagement project were at or above the key indicator of “individual fulfillment.”
Although we know that activity directors are doing their best and overwhelming want to dedicate most their time to providing personalized engagement to residents and communities like Kendal are committed to investing resources into optimizing engagement, this is not the case for many senior living communities in this country.
Often, residents who are living with cognitive impairment, or those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, are not receiving engagement that matches their current preferences and abilities. Instead, staff members are faced with high turnover rates and limited funding and so must do their best to address each resident’s needs, even if that means using unnecessary and potentially harmful antipsychotic medications. According to the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes, in a data report from July 2018, the national prevalence of antipsychotic medication use for long-stay nursing home residents has declined over time but is still at 14.8%.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in senior care communities across the nation are experiencing the negative impact of inadequate engagement. Approximately 50% of older adults in nursing homes are experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia and according to the American Geriatrics Society 40% of older adults in nursing homes also face depression. If a resident is not receiving meaningful engagement opportunities that are matched to their unique needs and preferences, they could show signs of aggression, agitation, and anxiety.
Luckily, there is an ever-growing roster of innovative therapeutic engagement products and services that help staff members meaningfully connect with residents, providing an outlet for their expression without relying on antipsychotic medications:
- Music and Memory: A non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.
- Validation Training Institute: Validation is the original, evidence based, person-centered approach created by Naomi Feil, supported by 40 years of practical experience and research, into a complete, globally used, relationship-building caregiver training method.
- Montessori for Dementia: Jennifer Brush, MA, CCC/SLP has combined Montessori’s philosophy of learning and living with what we know about aging and dementia care best practices. It is not a technique, task or intervention. It’s a way of living one’s life fully.
The defining feature of a successful long-term care or senior living community should be that it provides all residents, no matter their abilities or preferences, abundant opportunities to live a joyful and purposeful life each day. Linked Senior’s latest research on engagement in partnership with the Responsive Group in Toronto and Western Oregon University, supported by the Baycrest-led Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, indicates that meaningful therapeutic engagement can have a considerable impact on positive health outcomes for residents.
Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior.